The un-secret diary of a first-time RSECon attendee (aged 59¼)
By Clair Barrass EPCC on September 12, 2023
RSECon23 was held this year in sunny Swansea 5th-7th September. Whilst my work at EPCC is not actually that of RSE, it is certainly RSE-adjacent; I support the work of RSEs both here in EPCC and also around the country (sometimes even around the world). My roles include ARCHER2, Cirrus and Dirac services Support Desks and EPCC Training activities, so I was pleased, if slightly nervous, to be invited to help represent EPCC at RSECon this year.
The Swansea University Bay Campus is literally right on the beach and we were welcomed with a Barbeque on the grass, which many of us followed up with a walk across the sands in the sunset.
Tuesday morning, and time to start work! Met up with the rest of Team EPCC and got our Sponsor Stand set up with lots of information about what we do, as well as piles of tempting freebies to hand out to the lovely folk to came to talk to us.
And then we could all get started on the Conference proper, with Dr Gaël Varoquaux delivering the Keynote “Saving the world one line at a time?!”. He outlined many of the motivations and struggles that many of us involved in software development can relate to. His talk shared inspiring thoughts on the great work that has been, and continues to be done, and how we can all contribute to the successes as well as avoiding some of the pitfalls.
The second keynote from Daniel Katz from University of Illinois Urbana Champaign outlined the growth and development of the RSE community in the USA, with many parallels to the UK but also differences due to the size and differences in the research landscapes between the countries.
After lunch, we were able to start breaking out into different Tracks aimed at various topics, followed by the Poster Lightning Talks where each of the presenters had two minutes to pique our interest in their Poster topic. EPCC were involved in two Poster contrinutions:
- The Scottish Medical Imaging (SMI) service presented by Susan Krueger (HIC, Dundee University)
- Natural Language Processing of Radiology Reports presented by Andrew Brooks of EPCC (a component of the operational SMI service, but developed by the research project PICTURES. )
Finally, Neil Chue Hong, Director of the Software Sustainability Institute and long-time advocate for Research Software recognition, in “Is RSE coming of age?” talked about the inception of RSE and the story of its development and growth, and suggested strategies and goals for continued improvements.
Wednesday brought more opportunities for separate Tracks of interest, and I attended the HPC Community Birds of a Feather sessions where we had lively discussions about the prospect of UK Exascale, benchmarking, career opportunities for RSEs in HPC, training opportunities and requirements.
After lunch I was a helper the “Helping Support Reproducibility in Research: An Introduction to Containers for RSEs” where a whistle-stop tour of containers and given the opportunity to try using Singularity on ARCHER2. My support-desk skills came in handy as I was able to aid delegates getting signed up for their ARCHER2 accounts and get logged in, up, and running.
In the evening we enjoyed a lovely Formal Dinner with the opportunity to meet and chat with people around the table, followed by our after dinner speaker and entertainer, Steve Mould with some very nerd-appropriate edutainment which certainly had us all in stitches.
Thursday included the Awards Ceremony and a discussion on the opportunities for RSEs beyond Universities, with interesting insights from the panel on the differences and potential benefits of working with industry, national laboratories, charity and the public sector organisations.
Finally, we spit off into Tracks once more, with a further range of topics on offer.
Friday was a “Satelite event” to discuss RSE Training with presentations on lessons learned by RSEs delivering training in the past, and inspiration and recommendations on how we can improve on what is taught, and how it is taught. After lunch there were opportunities to discuss these topics in separate groups, and to share advice and best practices.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of RSECon. A huge thank you to the event organisers, session chairs and participants, hosts at University of Swansea and to everyone who took the time to chat with me and all those around them. It was a hugely warm, welcoming atmosphere, a lovely part of the country to be visiting, and it was especially nice to be able to meet face to face with many, many people, some of whom I had ‘known’ by email for years but never before met.
I learned lots, but also was pleasantly surprised that I felt I also contributed.
This was my first RSECon… I hope it won’t be my last.